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Brandee Barker

Communications Strategist

Menlo Park, CA

It’s not just me leaning in each day; we’re now a family that's leaning in together.

In 2006 I turned 36 and took a job at a high-growth Internet startup in Silicon Valley where the CEO was 22. At the time, the company’s platform had five million users, all of whom were in college. The startup culture was young, brilliant and fearless, and encouraged working very long hours and late nights. I boasted 15 years of experience in the tech communications industry, yet I was in the minority at the company because of my age and gender. I felt I had much to prove as one of the few women executives.

My biological clock was ticking, yet my internal conversation haunted me. How can I work at a startup and have a baby? How will I leave my team for three months? Will they render me unnecessary in my absence? Will I be passed over for a promotion or, worse, marginalized? Will my role as a mother detract from my abilities and focus? How will I keep up with the hours?

I had counted myself out of work and motherhood before I faced any real decisions.

The pressures I placed on myself translated into stress, both for my marriage and me. Fortunately, my husband Neal possessed enough confidence in me – and us – to keep us moving forward, though I continued to agonize about the “what ifs” for nearly three years (!).

In August 2009 I learned (and rejoiced) that I was pregnant. I decided to embrace that special time by involving my co-workers in the experience. I brought donuts to work regularly and my team went on “cankle watch,” which gave us all laughs as my ankles swelled through the third trimester.

Meanwhile, I flourished at work. Among many highlights, I co-hosted the live webcast of the Golden Globes while five months pregnant. Three weeks before I gave birth, I helped lead a 2,000-person conference, walking endless laps around the enormous conference hall. All of my fears about not being an effective and valuable part of the team diminished. Rather, I saw that one-time startup called Facebook reach an incredible milestone of 500 million people using the service. During the same time, a 10 lb. donut-fed child entered my life.

Today I am the co-founder of my own startup focused on strategic communications and marketing. I call my son Logan “my other startup.” That same confident husband proved to be the best father – the kind who changes diapers, washes the clothes AND works full time. I still work long hours, though the average age of my co-workers has increased by a decade or so. In between conference calls, we’re working on potty training and learning the ABCs. Sometimes a Diego cartoon serves as a babysitter while I answer emails. When Neal doesn’t cook for the family, I heat up food in the microwave. The grandparents pitch in often to help. It’s all about tradeoffs as we figure out how to make everything work.

The most profound change is that it’s not just me leaning in each day; we’re now a family that's leaning in together.